One of the things I have missed most during time away from campus during the pandemic is our suspension of work for twenty minutes a day to take coffee with colleagues. I don’t know of other institutions that have this built in to the institutional timetable. I was struck by this synergy between our scheduled break and the Swedish fika, after stumbling upon the concept. The fika consists of a coffee and cake break, but more than that, everyone stops. It’s a ritual, a democratic act, and a social process. It seems that it is a practice maintained by corporations, as well as educational organisations (as described by Morley et al. 2021).
“Something intangible but important happens at the fika, the usual divisions get set aside. People mingle without regard for age or class, or status within the office, discussing work related and none work matters, for half an hour communication and conviviality take precedence over hierarchy and bureaucracy” (Burkeman, 2021). The description beautifully captures the valuable practice of taking a collective break.
Reports on the fika also praise its beneficial properties in business terms such as the impact on productivity, manager insight, and time to troubleshoot. There are claims of the fika impacting the wellbeing of employees, and a sense of community. IKEA note on their website that “it’s also a chance to get things done quickly and simply – without booking a conference room, drawing up an agenda or creating a slide presentation. Why not just get together with co-workers and figure things out?”. Whilst Morley and colleagues counsel caution in shifting the focus of the fika from social to economic, the two dimensions seem intertwined.
While I have never experienced a proper fika, I have for a long time, enjoyed the suspension of my working day to take a social break – a university fika – Shropshire style. Through this process I learn to care for my colleagues, and share something of my own life, showing my own hopes, fears and vulnerability. I come to know the names of the nearest and dearest of colleagues, because we shared more than business. It’s a chance to exchange ideas, stories, teaching practice, research ideas, worries about students, and things that are or are not going well. In literature, in the Sweedish University context, this benefit is recognised as a site of informal professional learning (Langelotz & Mahon, 2021).
The suspension of work is such a valuable tool to create community and care. I am not suggesting the coffee break is the only way to connect, but shared co-presence, connection, personal as well as professional honesty matter a great deal, especially in a tangible culture. Imagine what we could do with a student fika, but that’s for another day!
Burkeman, O. (2021) Four Thousand Weeks: Embrace your limits. Change your life. Bodley Head Publications.
IKEA (2021) Working Together [Online] https://en-global-jobs.about.ikea.com/article2
Langelotz, L. & Mahon, K. (2021) Risk for professional learning when the academic community is forced online? Studies in continuing education. [Online] 1–16.
Morley, L. et al. (2018) Re-purposing fika: rest, recreation or regulation in the neoliberalized Swedish University? European journal of higher education. [Online] 8 (4), 400–414.